This morning is the first time I can remember being alone and laughing out loud.
I was looking for an email address in my archives. Deleting an email from Jim–any email, whether it’s a picture he sent me from his phone or a dental appointment reminder–remains unthinkable.
I knew there would be an email dated last February from the person whose address I sought. I scrolled along and found an unadorned link Jim sent me last Valentine’s Day.
I clicked on it. And laughed.
It opened to a sketch of a farmer, accompanied by the words: “One quality I’m not looking for in a partner is the ability to maintain a virtual farm.”
Even now, Jim is gently poking fun at me. Even now, as I try to stay afloat in the vale of tears, he can make me laugh.
I had just come inside from cleaning up after the dogs. In addition to its other obvious sensory negatives, this chore involves a repetitive motion my spine simply should not be making. I spoke to the sky as I did it: “Really, Jim? You’re laughing at me, aren’t you? Two beagles? What were we thinking?”
If you were to survey one hundred people who know me as either my work self or my other self, and ask what cyber-game I am most likely to play, I’m guessing ninety-nine of them would pick “Mafia Wars.” Not so.
Uncharacteristically, I’ve never partaken of an invitation to cyber-mayhem. I did, however, find myself irresistibly drawn to cyber-farming. Make fun if you will–and my husband did, always with a twinkle; but as Jim threatened to post as our daughter’s status update (having engineered a promise that he could write her next update if he let her use his smart phone to check her email): “To women of a certain age, Farmville is like crack.”
The good kind of crack, of course.
I had lunch with a friend the fall after Jim was diagnosed and told her about my obsessive rituals, harvesting my pretend crops and tending to my animals (which include a jackalope–a creature Jim, years ago, briefly convinced me actually existed out in Wyoming).
My friend Susan looked at me, tilting her head and very slightly narrowing her eyes in puzzlement tinged with concern just short of alarm. All-in-all she did a remarkable job of outwardly holding her worries for my mental health in check.
“And I’ve mastered cupcakes!” I told her enthusiastically.
Fully realizing how demented I sounded as I waxed on about my cyber-farm to a non-initiate, I came to realize it was no coincidence that when we had arrived at the Lahey Clinic on that late June morning when the diagnosis came, other people in waiting areas unabashedly were harvesting their crops on hand-held devices while they waited for heaven-knows-what kind of news.
Once again, I understood it only as I tried to explain it to someone else: having had the world we knew lurch to a halt, everything on my virtual farm not only remained in place, unaltered, but predictable to a mathematical certainty: I could check in at any time and see precisely by what percentage my crops had moved towards becoming colorful, harvestable bounty.
There were never any unpleasant surprises, only degrees of pleasant surprises: my neighbor’s chicken coop might yield an egg with a golden gnome inside, or something a little less spectacular. I might get no bonus at all–and, sure, I suppose my cyber-mares might have felt a little bit cheap after the wandering stallion left the stable after depositing only a few coins in his wake . . . but I’d never get a bad result. My farm animals and trees wouldn’t grow sick or perish if I couldn’t tend to them in time.
In all avenues of life, Jim was fond of prompting me to take more risks, saying, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”
In real-life we were living one of the worst things which could have happened.
What was the worst thing that could happen on my little farm? I could wait too long to harvest my crops and they would turn brown and unceremoniously wither…..but they could be unwithered. I had the power to restore them to perfect, blooming health.
(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon